Before we left, Stephen handed each of us a few precious corn kernels asking that, when we returned to our respective home lands, we reverently bury them, grieve over them, tend their graves, and with nature’s grace watch the renewal of life and the growth of a new corn plant. It occurred to me that this is what he had done – planted seeds in our hearts and our minds, which are watered by our tears and tended by the labours of our learning, in the hope that a new elder might begin to grow in each of us with an understanding that death is a gift, “the cradle of our love of life”.
Stephen Jenkinson, the author of Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul, calls upon people to bear witness to a world that we wish were otherwise and he offers an opportunity to learn how to labour at the planting of hard-won seeds so that we might possibly, against what are sometimes great odds, learn to live, and die, well.
For some years now I have been encouraging creatives to plant nasturtium seeds and, over a period of at least a month, talk to them and watch them grow. I encourage people to keep a record in a small notebook that is covered with imagery of growth.
This is a simple task. Just fill a planter with rich potting mix and add some nasturtium seeds. Talk to the pot and the seeds and agree upon where to place it. Then spend at least ten minutes each day tending to it, taking photos, keeping a journal record. You will be amazed by what this simple plant has to teach you.
Writers talk about this frequently. Fiction writers often say that a character wouldn’t do what they wanted, or that the characters took over the story. Of course our characters aren’t real; they can’t really take over a story, they can’t really take on a life of their own.
So where does the writing come from? And why do we have so little control?
Because no one has precisely pinned down where ideas come from writers, who love to speculate, have proposed endless theories. Stephen Johnson talks about networked inspiration and how the cafe culture provides a pot in which creativity may bubble and boil. There is little doubt that creativity flourished in the melting pot of the French Salons where copious amounts of coffee may or may not have been served.
At one time I was going around talking about the creation myths suggesting that like the universe and earth itself it all began within a swirling mass of nothing. I had students closing their eyes, looking at nothing; writing about what they saw when they saw nothing. As I recall we also speculated about whether the answer lay in the roots of trees. We considered the deep roots that we are able to tap into. Carl Jung named this the ‘collective unconscious’ and many incredibly popular self help books, written by people like Dorothea Brande and Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) have written extensively on the subject.
A personal favourite of mine is The Borderland: An exploration of theology in English literature, a book by Roger Bradshaigh Lloyd. My copy of this text quite literally leapt from the bookshelf into my hand in one of the second hand book shops that I frequent. Lloyd, an influential Anglican Priest talked about the Lord, or King of the Borderland being ‘Inspiration’. He names the Holy Ghost, of whom ‘no man has ever dared to give a human name’ as the sovereign of the Borderland in which the artist resides and suggests that answers to the unanswerable may be found in the Nicene Creed. Of course, at the time this affirmed my speculation that like God, in the book of Genesis, the artist makes something out of nothing. The artist is a creator, as compared to a manufacturer. One of the problems I see with self help books is that they encourage us to believe that we can manufacture things. Like Lloyd I do not believe that there is anything immoral in the “composition of pure pot-boilers since pots do need to boil if anything is to be written at all”. I do believe that we are truly creative when we are propelled by passion and find our way of tapping into the source.
With that in mind I welcome assorted story tellers, troubadours, hags, crazy people, trance tellers, bards, traveling poets, prophets, visionaries, charismatic preachers, spellbinders and holy people to join the caravan of donkeys heading towards the source. My hope is that this amazing collective will reveal quite unique ways of tapping into what artists perceive to be ‘the holy grail’.
The metaphor of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants (Latin: nanos gigantum humeris insidentes) expresses the meaning of “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries”. While it can be traced to at least the 12th century, attributed to Bernard of Chartres, its most familiar expression in English is found in a 1676 letter of Isaac Newton:
In ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves’ Clarissa Pinkola Estes shares a numinous dream in which she finds ‘someone patting (her) foot in encouragement’. When she looked down she saw that she was “standing on the shoulders of an old woman who was steadying her ankles and smiling up” at her. In the dream Estes protested that it was her who should support the older woman on her shoulders but the old woman insisted that this was “how it is meant to be”. It turned out that the old woman was standing on the shoulders of an even older woman who was standing on the shoulders of… and so the line continued.
Modern story tellers are, as recent articles about the long history of Fairy Tales testify, “descendants of a very long line of people, troubadours, bards, griots, cantors, traveling poets, bums, hags and crazy people.”
Story is very old art. It is good to stop and do a stock take of just whose shoulders you are standing upon, to take the time to express gratitude to those who have, through their work, nurtured your creativity.
a person with whom one shares a secret or private matter, trusting them not to repeat it to others.
Vasilisa had a doll! I have Peggie!
Peggie and I communicate at least once a week! She knows me better than I know myself, doesn’t spin me any nonsense or spare me truths. I trust her completely! She acts as a guide when I am not sure what to do.
But enough said! What goes on between Peggie and I stays between Peggie and I.
How do you make space for intuition?
If you have no stomach for being fodder for a King or dying on the battle field you can still be remembered on St Crispian’s Day. Form a word army, storm the feast day of St Crispin, make a stirring speech, or not, and be long remembered for the power of your words.
Like light moonbeams they quietly gather, stealthily creeping through the cast iron curtains.
Treading lightly, the whispered word patterns silently amass, emerging from within the lofty mansion of the gods.
The rebel army forms a vivid word picture.
Disciplined, they gather resolutely in the darkened, labyrinthine corridors of the psyche, forming sturdy battalions.
With banners raised, they prepare to march, ready to invade distant lands.
Graceful, curling, silky, smooth little words, skilfully pirouette,
performing acrobatic feats, leading the way with striking agility.
While taut, tense, cryptic vipers, having skillfully twisted themselves from within the invisible chains, Hephaistos so meticulously fashioned in his anvil, self-righteously form an indomitable rearguard.
United the word warriors stand erect, on the mountaintops, awaiting the bugle call. In unison they surge forward, gathering momentum as they ride into the valleys.
The word army, united, buoying each other, singing, marches in tight formation.
In rhythm, the armed force gathers momentum, vigorously occupying and outwitting the foreign, virgin, white unblemished soil of the New World.
by Heather Blakey 2005